Set Your Tivo: 01.17.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 17th, 2011
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
The first official ESPN Big Monday of the season tips off with two top ten clashes in the Big East and a couple of nice matchups from the Big 12. Park yourself on the couch from 3:30 until about 11:30 and you’ll be just fine. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#7 Villanova @ #9 Connecticut – 3:30 pm on ESPN (*****)
The visiting Wildcats have won 11 games in a row but face their stiffest test of the season today at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. Villanova is coming off a furious second half comeback against Maryland on Saturday keyed by rebounding. The battle of the boards was even at halftime but Villanova used a 23-14 edge on the glass in the second half to carry them to a win. They’ll need more of that against this (or any typical) Jim Calhoun team, meaning one that’s relentless on the boards. Villanova is actually the better team overall in rebounding percentages but the Huskies are #6 in offensive rebounding and can take over a game that way. Alex Oriakhi has averaged 13/13 since his donut at Notre Dame on January 4th and it’s no coincidence that UConn is 3-0 in that time. When Oriakhi plays well, the Huskies have someone to take the pressure off of Kemba Walker. Connecticut sometimes struggles with their shooting so Villanova must be ready for the missed shots and limit second chances for the home squad. Isaiah Armwood has been a shot in the arm for the Wildcats over the past few games as he’s playing more and rebounding well (13 rebounds vs. MD). For UConn, Walker is not one of those who has difficulty shooting and Villanova will have a hard time defending him. Jay Wright will probably go with Corey Fisher on Walker and, while Fisher is a good defender, that probably won’t be enough by itself. Villanova’s Corey Stokes has loads of talent and the potential to match Walker at times but he’s had a tough time against rugged, physical defenses. Cincinnati and Maryland held him in check and Connecticut may be able to do the same. For Villanova to win on the road, Stokes likely has to have a good game. Playing against a Connecticut defense that allows only 39.7% shooting inside the arc, Villanova still must drive and try to get to the line. The Wildcats shoot 77% from the stripe and have to try and get Connecticut into foul trouble. Villanova is not a deep team, especially with the latest injury to Dominic Cheek and the uncertain status of Maurice Sutton, though he is expected to play. Coach Wright, just 4-10 in his career against Connecticut, will play only seven or eight guys with the starters plus Armwood getting the bulk of the minutes. We think this will be a great game but you never know who will show up as the second and third scoring options for Connecticut. Still, the Huskies have to be favored at home.
Kansas State @ #11 Missouri – 5:30 pm on ESPN (***)
Frank Martin’s program hasn’t exactly enjoyed prosperity this season. A preseason top five team, Kansas State has fallen on hard times and is barely hanging on to their national ranking in the polls (they’re already out of RTC’s Top 25). Personal problems, suspensions, and a glaring lack of leadership have derailed their Final Four hopes and now they’re just hoping to make the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t get any easier today at Missouri. The Tigers are coming off an overtime loss to Texas A&M, a thrilling game to anyone who watched (except Mizzou fans) while KSU pounded what may be the worst team in the Big 12 (Texas Tech) by 34 points, out-rebounding the Red Raiders by a stunning 41-18 margin. Rebounding has to be at the top of Martin’s points of emphasis and a big part of that will be Curtis Kelly, who returned from his suspension on Saturday. Kelly had 12/5 after sitting out six games but must do more against Missouri big man Ricardo Ratliffe, currently on one heck of a hot streak. Ratliffe has made 19-28 FG (68%) over Mizzou’s past three games even though the Tigers have lost two of them. Kansas State can’t match Missouri’s offensive prowess but they can defend and rebound. The Wildcats struggle to shoot, making it essential that they out-rebound Missouri, an average team at best on the boards. We’re sure Martin would love a good game out of the inconsistent Jamar Samuels (22/9 vs. TTU), a player who’s failed to follow up a big game with a similar performance.
Turnovers are going to be another huge area of concern for K-State. As everyone knows, Missouri creates turnovers like no other team and also protects the ball resulting in a great margin. Kansas State is #256 in turnover percentage (16 per game) and will not be able to win if they turn it over so much. With Michael Dixon, Marcus Denmon and Kim English looking for swipes all night, the Tigers should be in good shape in this area. Even though the Wildcats play a physical brand of defense, Missouri should be able to score given all the possessions they get. If they can hold their own on the glass, they will win this game going away. The key for Mizzou is to stop Jacob Pullen and Rodney McGruder. Pullen has scored at least 20 points in each game since returning from his suspension while McGruder has gone 22-40 (55%) from deep over the past six games. Kansas State still has potential but it’s hard to see them putting it all together instantly, especially on the road against an opponent like Missouri.
#4 Syracuse @ #5 Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm on ESPN (*****)
The game of the night literally took a hit when Syracuse’s leading scorer Kris Joseph fell hard to the Carrier Dome floor on Saturday against Cincinnati and left the game with a confirmed concussion. It was a nasty fall and we’re sure almost everyone who was watching cringed when it happened. Joseph did not make the trip to Pittsburgh and will not play this evening, though Jim Boeheim is hoping to have him back for Saturday’s game against Villanova. The Orange will put their undefeated record on the line in one of the toughest places to play in all the land. The Panthers are 144-11 (92.9%) at the Petersen Events Center since it opened, including an 8-0 mark against top five opponents. Pittsburgh has won 12 of the last 15 meetings in this series, although Syracuse was the first visiting team ever to win at the Pete, an overtime game almost seven years ago in late February of 2004. Someone will have to step up for Syracuse in Joseph’s absence, even though the Orange are still very talented. Rick Jackson will play a key role inside against the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Rebounding will be an issue for Syracuse tonight as they’ve had some lapses this year despite doing a good job overall. Expect James Southerland to see more minutes with Joseph out and he’ll have to own the boards with Jackson, a double-double machine. Pittsburgh pulled down 19 offensive rebounds on Saturday against Seton Hall, a team that significantly out-rebounded Syracuse only nine days ago. The Panthers owned the Pirates on the glass by a count of 45-26 overall. While the transitive property certainly doesn’t apply here, this has to be a point of emphasis for Boeheim and his staff. Brandon Triche has quietly played well over the past five Syracuse games, shooting the ball very well.
One area that may be overlooked is Scoop Jardine’s turnover problem. He had seven against St. John’s on Wednesday and has averaged five per contest over the last four games. Jardine is a great guard but must protect the ball against a Pitt team that always plays tough, physical defense. Offensively, the Panthers should look to free up Ashton Gibbs, an absolute assassin when coming off a screen. Gibbs doesn’t need much daylight to get a shot off and should find some room against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Another strength of the Panthers is their exceptional passing ability, especially on the interior. This is critically important against a zone defense, specifically one as tight as Syracuse’s. Look for Pitt to find the open lanes and seams, moving the ball effectively to get an open shot. Without Joseph in the lineup, this will be a hard game for Syracuse to win. They certainly have the talent, but Pitt is at home in front of a raucous crowd and has plenty of depth, something Syracuse lacks. The Panthers are one of the deepest teams in the nation and Boeheim will only go seven or eight deep with Joseph out. We predict a thriller, but the odds are strongly in Pitt’s favor tonight.
#3 Kansas @ Baylor – 9:30 pm on ESPN (****)
It’s almost desperation time for Baylor after a 15-point loss at Iowa State on Saturday. The Bears’ best win came against 9-8 Arizona State and they’re just 2-4 away from Waco. They may be at home, but it’s a huge opportunity to get the monkey off their back as far as carding a quality win. Scott Drew must have his team prepared for the Kansas attack, one that will come in the form of up-tempo basketball, strong interior play and stifling defense. KU is second in defensive efficiency and plays a quick pace, making execution in the half court highly problematic for the opponent. With plenty of big men inside, that’s exactly how Baylor usually plays. The Bears assist on just 49% of their made shots, ranked #282. That’s mostly due to inconsistent point guard play, but you can also point the finger at LaceDarius Dunn. A dynamic scorer at 22.0 PPG, Dunn takes a boatload of shots and connects fairly often (42% from deep). While Baylor would certainly be worse without Dunn, their offense can grind to a standstill when the players are watching Dunn do his thing. He has the ability to single-handedly take over a game, but spreading the wealth with the front court may be better for Baylor. They have one of the biggest and most talented front courts in the nation and need to use it against Kansas on both ends. Perry Jones is coming off a 25-point performance against Oklahoma while Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones are always threats in the paint. The Bears must use their height to their advantage and rebound well to create extra possessions. Both teams rebound well, but Baylor must assert itself and take control on the glass. Defensively, Baylor must stop a Kansas team that shoots 59% inside the arc, tops in the nation. Marcus Morris has been on a tear for the Jayhawks, averaging 24/11 over his last three games while shooting 60% from the floor on the year. Stopping Marcus and his brother Markieff Morris is vital to Baylor’s success tonight. Baylor ranks #17 in defending the two at 42%, but how much of that is due to their soft schedule? In a loss to Gonzaga, Baylor held the Zags’ forwards and centers to 44% from the floor, probably their best opponent in terms of interior talent. Baylor lost that game because they shot poorly and turned it over too much, but the interior defense is at least good sign.
Turnovers have been a constant problem all year for the Bears with Dunn and point guard A.J. Walton each averaging over three per game, contributing to 15 team turnovers per night. Walton has improved his ball handling lately (six turnovers in the last three games) but he needs to prove it against a good team. Coach Drew will probably employ a zone, especially if he’s seen the tape of Kansas’ game with Michigan. The Jayhawks had a lot of trouble dealing with Michigan’s zone defense but won in overtime as the Wolverines inexplicably switched to man-to-man. Baylor ranks just #235 in three point defense, however, and Kansas has Josh Selby and Tyrel Reed to shoot over any zones they might see. Reed had a game-high 16 points on 4-7 from deep against Nebraska and has been a big three point threat over his entire career in Lawrence. Kansas has had a tough time putting teams away lately and this may be Baylor’s best chance to pick off the Jayhawks. Pace is a concern, though, as the potential exists for it to overcome the thinner Bears. Bill Self has an incredibly deep rotation and may be able to wear down Baylor in the second half. We imagine Baylor knows how big of a game this is for them and with a national television audience, they should play with a sense of urgency not yet seen from them this year. Whether that will be enough against the deep and talented Jayhawks is another question.